Conspicuous Consumption in Sinclair Lewis' Babbit

Powerful Essays
Conspicuous Consumption in Sinclair Lewis' Babbit

The idea of conspicuous consumption, or buying unnecessary items to show one's wealth, can be seen in Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis describes the main character of the book, George F. Babbitt, as a person who has his values and priorities all mixed up. Babbitt buys the most expensive and modern material goods just to make himself happy and make people around his aware of his status. He is more concerned about these items than about his wife or children and to him, "god was Modern Appliances" (Lewis 5). Through Babbitt, Lewis is attempting to show how the average American person will do or buy anything, even if unnecessary, only to show off and make peers think highly of him or her. As seen in Babbitt, George wakes up to the "best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments" (3). Babbitt is extremely satisfied to be awakened by this expensive clock because it raises his value to the world. A regular alarm clock can do, but George Babbitt needs the top-of-the-line model to show off his wealth. He, along with the rest of the citizens in the book, takes great value in his car, which to him was "poetry and tragedy, love and heroism" (22). One must think that of his family and friends, not of a piece of metal sitting in the garage. Babbitt continues his conspicuous consumption lifestyle by vowing to quit smoking and then going out and buying "the electric cigar lighter which he had coveted for a week" (51). Therefore, Babbitt does not necessarily buy the lighter for himself, but to show to everyone around him that he has the money to buy it, and consequently feels superior to them. The fi...

... middle of paper ...

...In the end, the Rolex watch on the hand of a rich man is not used to tell time, rather to tell the world of his accomplishments and his burgeoning bank account.

Works Cited

Brooks, John. Showing off in America. Boston: Little and Brown, 1979.

Feingold, Danny. "Pooches Lap up the Attention at Dog Day Care." Los Angeles Times

11 Aug. 1999, home ed.: E2 Lexis/Nexis.

Henahan, Donal. "Could Veblen Explain Today's Opera?" New York Times 19 Apr. 1987,

final ed.: B21 Lexis/Nexis.

Laurence, Ben. "Pounds 100 up in Smoke. Hedonism is back." The Observer

24 May 1998: 2 Lexis/Nexis.

Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt. 1922. New York: Signet, 1998.

Reiss, Michael. "Are you suffering from affluenza?" New Statesman 5 Aug. 2002: 13.

Walker, Michael. "The Beverly Hills-Mobile." New York Times 15 Sept. 2002, late ed.: B1 Lexis/Nexis.
Get Access